The Memphis Grizzlies have won four straight games after a season opening loss at the team that ended their season last year, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies have wins over Golden St, Utah, Milwaukee, and Friday at home against the Houston Rockets. All of those teams are decent or good, but Sunday the Grizzlies face their toughest test of the season as they host the defending World Champions Miami Heat who are 5-1 this season.
Of course, that task could be a little less daunting as both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade aren’t at 100%. James is probable after banging knees with Atlanta forward Josh Smith Friday night in the Heat’s 95-89 win over the Hawks in Atlanta. James said his knee hurts but he will play tonight against Memphis. He injured his knee in the first half of the Atlanta game but finished with 21 points including the jump shot with 13.6 seconds left that iced the game for Miami. Wade missed the last game with an illness, and is listed as probable. There is a better chance Wade misses tonight as he is day to day.
For the Grizzlies, they played their first Southwest Division game Friday night against the Houston Rockets in Memphis. The Grizzlies were cold shooting early hitting only 3 of their first 13 shots. Becuase of this Houston jumped out to a 24-17 at the end of the quarter. Memphis closed the gap to 46-42 at halftime, and then went on a 12-2 run to open the third. Memphis took a 69-68 lead at the end of the third. The Grizzlies expanded their lead to 87-75 and looked to have the game in hand. However, the Rockets went on a 10-0 run keyed by 7 straight points from point guard Jeremy Lin. Houston was down 87-85 with 2:21 left but Memphis scored the last 6 points of the game to win 93-85. Neither team shot very well. Houston was 40.8% from the field, including 9/27 from 3 point range. Memphis was 37.2% from the field and 6/19 from 3 point range. The Rockets made 14 of 15 free throws and the Grizzlies were 17 of 23 from the line.
Miami is outscoring teams 108-98 this season. The Heat are shooting 51.5% from the field and 42.9% from 3 point range. Miami makes 82.9% from the free throw line. Miami is #1 in the league in scoring and field goal percentage, #3 in 3 point shooting and #2 in free throw percentage. The Heat average 39 rebounds per game, and give up 40.5 per game. Miami opponents are shooting 44.3% from the field and 35.8% from 3 point range.
Memphis is outscoring teams 100-93 this season. The Grizzlies are shooting 42.9% from the field and 32.9% from 3 point range. Memphis makes 80.2% from the free throw line. The Grizzlies average 44.8 rebounds per game and give up 39.8. Memphis is in the top 10 in the league in scoring, points allowed, free throw percentage, rebounding and rebounds allowed. Grizzly opponents are shooting 43.8% from the field and 38% from 3 point range.
Let’s take a look at how the teams match-up against each other.
Miami is coached by Eric Spoelstra. Memphis is coached by Lionel Hollins. Spoelstra won a championship as the coach of the Heat last year. Hollins won a championship as a player with the 1977 Portland Trailblazers. Each has the right personality for their cities and their teams. Both are among the best coaches in the league, and are pretty much even.
Although Rudy Gay is a very talented player, and among the best small forwards in the league, he is no LeBron James. Gay is averaging 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Quincy Pondexter provides a nice spark off the bench. James is a three time MVP and widely considered the best player in the game. LeBron is averaging 22.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game.
Heavy advantage to the Heat, even if James is hobbled with a bruised knee.
Miami doesn’t usually start a traditional power forward, but they don’t need to with LeBron’s ability to guard all 5 positions at an elite level. Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis, Chris Bosh, James, and Shane Battier can all play the power forward if needed. Though Battier is more of a small forward he can guard bigger players with his tenacious defense. Without Wade on Friday night, Miami started Mike Miller, LeBron, Battier, Bosh, and Mario Chalmers.
For Memphis, there are no such questions about the power forward position. Zach Randolph is power forward for the Grizzlies. Randolph is averaging 15.8 points, 15 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block a game. Marreese Speights is averaging 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game off the bench.
Although Randolph is great, I give a slight edge to Miami’s versatility.
Bosh and Joel Anthony are the centers on the roster. Bosh has started all six games at center and Anthony has only played in 3 games. Bosh is averaging 20.2 rebounds, 6.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol is averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.
I think Bosh and Gasol are pretty much even.
If Wade is healthy he will start. Last game, Mike Miller started in his place. Either way they still have Ray Allen coming off the bench. Wade is averaging 20.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Allen is averaging 14.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Allen is shooting 59.3% from 3 point range.
Tony Allen starts at shooting guard for Memphis, but more for his defensive prowess than his scoring. Allen is averaging 7.2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block per game. Wayne Ellington comes off the bench.
Heavy advantage to Miami, but Allen is one of the best defenders in the league.
Mario Chalmers averages 8.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.8 steals for the Heat. Norris Cole is the official back-up but James and Wade are excellent at passing and dishing assists as well.
Memphis point guard Mike Conley, Jr. averages 14.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. Jerryd Bayless is the back-up, but Gasol passes really well for a big man with 5 assists a game.
Slight advantage to Memphis.
Both the Heat and Grizzlies have the talent to make a deep run into the playoffs. This will be a nice early season test for both teams. I think it will be close, but Miami snaps the four game winning streak for the Grizzlies.